Archive for the ‘Editors' Dispatches’ Category

News from the Crypt

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Hey, CR followers. We’re breaking our summer skeleton-crew silence with a reminder, an update, and a treat.

First, don’t forget our summer contest. There’s some lovely moolah attached to the Schiff Prizes—and even if the eds don’t pick your piece to win, they may still want to publish it at our usual per-page rate ($30 for poetry, $25 for prose). In the event that we don’t opt to publish your stuff this time around, you still get a full year’s subscription to the mag, which includes bonus music features AND the 64-page, full-color graphic play MOTH, which we plan to mail out with our November issue. Illustrator Gable Ostley is hard at work and sending us new “rough inks” almost daily, and playwright Declan Greene is supplying captions and dialogue for Gabe’s sketches. The finished product is going to be amazing.

Now for the update: We just approved the final proof for our summer issue and expect the shipment in the next week or so. Our TEN-tacular issue includes last year’s Schiff Prize winners, three reviews that meditate on the staying power of the classic Moby-Dick, the usual complement of terrific stories and poems, another great translation feature,  and—bonus—it will be accompanied by our latest music feature, composer Sarah Hutchings’s score for Jeff Gundy’s poem “March Ode.”

Today’s treat comprises a last delightful look at our winter number in the form of our (relatively) new blog feature Pas de Deux, in which contributors to a given issue interview each other about what intrigued, puzzled, or impressed them in the another writer’s story, poem, or essay. This installment features an exchange between Daniel A. Hoyt and Douglas Silver on the latter’s story  ”Found Peoples.”  Check back in a couple of days for the switcheroo: Doug’s questions and Dan’s responses!

Daniel A. Hoyt: I have lots of questions about bodies and lots of questions that seem to beget more questions. “Found Peoples” starts with such gripping, visceral language as Feng, the story’s protagonist, examines a dead body he’s fished from the river. I was immediately convinced by the body; I was there with Feng as he “pinched the green eye, and the contact lens peeled off.” How did you create these artful and disturbing states of decay? What kind of research did you do? Is this a feat of imagination, of medical textbooks, of Google?

Douglas Silver: Google is generally my first stop—be it for a spicier Massaman curry recipe or the particulars of each stage of human decomposition. Numerous websites and academic journals provided an indispensable foundation in the science of decay. I read a lot and emailed a few experts and saw many images I would like to unsee. From there, it was a matter of backtracking—from ashes to animation—and deciding upon those details that provide a glimpse into the lives of the deceased.

DH: How about your depiction of China? How did you go about imagining and creating the physical setting and the rich sociological dynamics underpinning the story?

DS: China’s abysmal record on human rights and personal expression is infamous the world over. It is a dreadful place to be writer and a fascinating place to write about. Much of the societal and physical depictions were the product of research, but the narrative atmosphere was strongly influenced by my visit to China after graduating high school. When I arrived at the airport in Beijing, I noticed a sign that read Warning: Drug Trafficking is Punishable by Death in the R.O.C. Being 18 and an idiot, I thought this a superb photo-op. Before I could put away my camera, two officers approached me. One took my luggage and emptied it in front of everyone while the other demanded my passport. When they didn’t find drugs, they repacked me (admittedly neater than I had packed myself) and welcomed me to the country. When I told someone I met about this interaction, an American who had lived in China for years, she explained how lucky I was, how much worse it would have been if I were Chinese. I sought out that airport photograph when I began the story and kept asking myself what becomes of the unlucky.

DH: Because these questions are for a Pas de Deux feature, this question seems almost mandatory: Will you discuss the way you use foils in “Found Peoples”?

DS: One of the challenges of the piece was providing the reader a palpable sense of Feng’s former life. It seemed the most organic method to achieve this was through Feng’s encounters with those who were devoted to his family, and leveraging this juxtaposition for the benefit of both characterization and narrative tension. At some point, it occurred to me that it is Feng’s contact with the living through which the reader derives the clearest prospective into Feng’s past, i.e., the life he lost. Conversely, it is his dealings with the dead that most clearly render his present life—a paradigm that is upended by his time with the young woman’s body.

DH: There’s a strangely mundane yet magical moment in “Found Peoples” when Feng thinks of and explains the story of the prodigal son. To many members of a western audience and to many western characters, that explanation is unnecessary, but Feng has to think about it in a different way. How did you discover Feng’s point of view? How do you go about shaping point of view in your stories?

DS: I’m of the belief that the surest way to figure out a character is to determine what he or she most desires. If my character doesn’t have an urgent need, then I don’t have a character. At least not one I have any right to expect readers to invest in. I start by asking myself the basics: What does CHARACTER want? Why does CHARACTER want it? What is preventing CHARACTER from getting it? In Feng’s case, while he spends his days working vigilantly and dishonorably to afford basic human necessities, he desires at his core the safe return of his family and the communal acceptance that carries. But he is powerless to achieve that desire; his sole option is faith—something he has never possessed, what divided him from his family prior to their incarceration and what he can’t acquire without them. Once I realized the paradox of Feng as a man who doesn’t believe and therefore isn’t believed in (and therefore can’t believe), I felt like I might have character worth following.

DH: This one may seem like an assignment rather than a question, but I wish more people would read Our Mutual Friend (you too, Gentle Reader of The Cincinnati Review blog!), so here goes: As I first read “Found Peoples,” I immediately thought of Gaffer Hexam, the “night bird” in Our Mutual Friend, who, like Feng, fishes corpses from a river and strips them of valuables.  Here’s a link to the opening chapter, when we first meet Gaffer and his daughter, Lizzie. Doug, I know you were initially inspired by a news article about men who retrieve dead bodies from rivers in China, but had you read Our Mutual Friend? What kind of dialogue do you see between your story and the opening of Dickens’s novel?

DS: I’m embarrassed and grateful that I had not heard of Our Mutual Friend. Having now read the first chapter, I am not sure I would have had the confidence to write the piece had I known that none other than Charles Dickens had employed a similar conceit, especially given that both stories start out in medias res. While it appears Gaffer and Feng are not driven by similar desires, both have no qualms about plundering the dead. Gaffer’s rhetorical statement “Has a dead man any use for money? Is it possible for a dead man to have money? What world does a dead man belong to? ‘Tother world. What world does money belong to? This world. . . .” places a premium on corporeality similar to that of Feng, whose ken is viewed through the lens of materialism. Again, I have read one chapter, so my analysis might prove to be total bunk. (But I’m enjoying it thus far, as might you, Gentle Reader of The Cincinnati Review blog!)

Tentacular Redux; or, Call for Peglegs

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Near and dear friends, pull out your calendars and draw a heart in the square for April 5. Make that a heart and an exclamation point. No—a heart and an exclamation point with a smiley face where the dot would be. It’s still our tenth anniversary. Yep. All year. We did it up fancy at AWP, and now we’re bringing the party home. Well, if Covington counts as home—and we say it does. On April 5 eve, hop over the river and meet us at the Leapin’ Lizard Lounge. The fun starts at 7 p.m. and runs till someone spoils it by breakdancing. Funky’s is catering, and Bon Bonerie is providing a cake the size of a private island. We’ll have poetry readings (by Jeff Gundy and Kathleen Winter), musical performances (of CR poems that composers Sarah Hutchings and Steven Weimer wrote scores for), and a dramatic reading (by Ben Dudley and MaryKate Moran) from Declan Greene’s MOTH, which we are in the process of making into a graphic play. Oh—and if you have a great playlist on your iPod, get in touch. We need you. Same if you can drink raw eggs or play bongos with your pegleg.

About Suffering They Were Never Wrong

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

We’re thrilled that Pulitzer Prize-winning poet C. K. Williams is spending this week in Cincinnati. As the Elliston Poet for the 2013-14 academic year, Williams gave a master class yesterday on “First Drafts, Last Drafts,” illuminating the nuances of his exhaustive revision process. In line with old masters like Horace and Alexander Pope (Horace recommended that poets withhold their work from publication for ten years), Williams equated his practice with the act of being physically beaten—repeatedly—and confessed to spending twenty years on a single piece. As proof, Williams offered several scrawled-on drafts of poems that eventually became “Newark Noir” and “Wall,” both from his most recent collection, Writers Writing Dying (2012). Most striking was the formal recasting Williams performed in each draft, how a meditative lyric like “The Economy Rescued by My Mother Returning to Shop,” for example, began as a brief prose memoir and eventually settled into the sprawling, Whitmanesque lines Williams has become famous for.

C. K. Williams is the author of eleven books of poetry, including Writers Writing Dying (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2012); Wait (2010); and Collected Poems (FSG, 2007). The Singing won the National Book Award in 2003; and his previous book, Repair, was awarded the 2000 Pulitzer Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Award. His collection Flesh and Blood received the National Book Critics Circle Award. Williams has also published a memoir, Misgivings: My Mother, My Father, Myself, in 2000, and has published translations of Sophocles’ Women of Trachis, Euripides’ Bacchae, and poems of Francis Ponge, among others. A prose book entitled Williams, On Whitman, was released in 2010 from Princeton University Press. He is also the author of two books of essays: Poetry and Consciousness (1998) and In Time (University of Chicago Press, 2012).

Williams will read his poetry at 4:00 this afternoon in the George Elliston Poetry Room, located in Langsam Library 646. This reading is free and open to the public. We hope to see you there.

Remembering Cathryn Long

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Nicola Mason: For the last couple of months I’ve been attempting to approach the difficult task of informing our far-flung contributors, readers, and friends about the death of Don Bogen’s wife, Cathryn Long, from inflammatory breast cancer. She passed just before Thanksgiving, and needless to say, inhabiting the world feels vastly different now that Cathryn’s not here to grace it with her sprightly intelligence, her sly wit, her great warmth, and her encompassing curiosity. She could boast a great many triumphs and accomplishments, but she didn’t. Her loss is deeply felt by friends and family in small- and large-scale ways—and, of course, by none more than Don and their two children, Anna and Theo.

Cathryn was a huge supporter of The Cincinnati Review, and even a fan (she read every issue cover to cover and when we met would bring up this story or that essay), but few know that she also generously lent first her eye or ear to poems Don was considering, then her thoughts. Engagement was one of Cathryn’s gifts, and the magazine benefited from her focus on, and passion for, words in specific and creative enterprise in general. For this—and to her—we will always be grateful.

Longing for Length

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

We here in the CR office are all, in a word, short. Brian Trapp, the giant among us, tops out at three foot eight. Needless to say, we rely pretty heavily on Photoshop when posting images of ourselves. But in the spirit of  those reveals where celebs appear proudly in unretouched-up photos without makeup, we want to “come out” to CR’s devoted following and show ourselves as we really look.

Just as people with curly hair wish they had the straight stuff and angular people want curves (and vice versa), our diminutive statures make us long for length. Not much we can do about that in the physical sense, but we’ve decided, as strong proponents of placebos, to devote an issue of CR to forms that we can lose ourselves in. You got a poem cycle that circles the globe? Send it. You got a novella nosing through the top of the giraffe house? We’re your mag. The limits (because, well, when are there not limits?): for prose, NO FEWER THAN 10,000 words and NO MORE THAN 35,000 words; and for poetry, works NO FEWER THAN 10 pages in manuscript. Put us on the rack of your writing and give us a good, sustained stretch. Attenuate our attention spans. Gangly up our ganglia. NOTE: When you submit your protracted pieces, be sure to click the category “Longform – Poetry” or “Longform – Prose” in Submission Manager. (That way your submission goes to the right readers right away.)

New Issue + Art Song

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

The Bad: Paper cuts. Unwieldy tape guns. Sitting on the floor criss-cross applesauce for hours on end. Rapid-onset carpal tunnel.

The Good: Subscribers can look for CR 10.2 to magically appear via the still sprightly and efficient United States Postal Service.

The Wonderful: This issue kicks off our tenth-anniversary year and features the printed score of our first art song, from a poem by Kathleen Winter, “Eve, Seducing the Apple” (CR 4.1), composed by Steve Weimer for Mezzo-Soprano, Viola, Violoncello, and Piano.

As poetry editor Don Bogen writes in 10.2, the printed score is appealing even if you don’t read music: “You can see the poem unfolding among the intricate patterns of notes, directions, and blank spaces on the lines.” So if you don’t have it already, order a copy of the stellar 10.2. When it arrives, if you do read music and happen to have a few string players and a piano on hand, do it up. But just in case your reading skills are confined to the literary, we’ve included a performance recorded last winter from musicians at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. This recording features Mezzo-Soprano Chelsea Duval-Major, Cellist Matt Harman, and Violist Zach Saunders. Enjoy.

Click this link to listen: Eve, Seducing the Apple

Remembering Sarah Doerries

Monday, October 21st, 2013

The blog was silent on Friday to mark the sudden passing of Sarah Richards Doerries, a contributor to our Winter 2008 issue who had been steadily and generously reading CR submissions for more than a year. She volunteered for this work because she loved it, and the editors here looked forward to her informed and lively assessments of the poetry and prose assigned her. Sarah was a longtime friend of Nicola Mason and Michael Griffith. They met in the early ’90s when she came on staff as a graduate assistant at The Southern Review. Sarah went on to publish her poetry and to edit books for many of the top publishing houses in the country, as well as to work and teach at her alma mater, Newcomb College/Tulane University. Her last position was that of editor at the Historic New Orleans Collection, and she was on her way to represent the Collection at the Frankfurt Book Fair when she suffered the brain aneurysm that ended her life. She had a vast intelligence, a nimble wit, a warm heart, and a brilliant spark. We will sorely miss her.

. . . in which we rhapsodize over our readers.

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

Every now and again, we are moved to laud the exceptional, behind-the-scenes efforts of our pool of trusted readers, who are weekly (yea, even through the “catch up” months of summer) poring over poems and stories and essays, etc., and rendering thoughtful judgments on their strengths and weaknesses. They are busy people with hectic lives, and we do not pay them, yet these intrepid, dedicated humans read on (occasionally taking breaks to apply more deodorant). Below are some random bits of their brain-work. CR submission readers, we (the staff) salute you!

—This feels awfully fresh and unusual, both in content and form. Some stunning language and insightful connections occur in this piece, but it all has a veneer of self-conscious wit that seems to suit it perfectly, as if the author were winking at us.

—I found these obscure but enjoyed figuring them out, and liked them when I did (if indeed I did).

—Though the story feels familiar, the narration and playful form interested me. Humor-tinged despair sharpens the tragedy.

—Not thrilling, but I like the staccato nature of the images, almost like we’re seeing a flash of them all at once.

—Prose is whip smart in most places, though it falters occasionally into cliche. Might be more meditative, but structurally it’s working and it has patient, emotional climax that makes the eyes water.

—These poems have energy/potential, but some of the language seems a bit clunky at times. Another read?

—The allegory is an interesting one, and I liked the prose style at first, but the story was too long to sustain that style and needed pruning.

—Surreal, compelling images, but the poems are either are too obscure and baffling to make a full enough impact or they offer easy, familiar conceits.

—While some scenes have genuine tension and momentum, the writing is needlessly verbose. Certain details seem either to be extraneous and/or out-of-order. This quality often robs the story of narrative momentum, and the conclusion seems to peter out rather than resonate fully.

—Engaging and interesting experiments, but they trail off into obscurity.

—These have a Zach Schomburg feel and are a bit cloying at times, but I still like them (I just don’t like that they want me to like them so much).

Claudia Emerson: Some Happy Intersections

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

Nicola Mason: We here at UC are enjoying an extended visit with Claudia Emerson, winner of the 2006 Pulitzer for her third collection, Late Wife. As our 2013 Elliston Poet-in-Residence, Claudia is teaching and holding conferences with grad students, giving readings and lectures to the literary community, and generally lavishing her delightful company on everyone around. In short, Claudia is lovely beyond lovely—and has been since she was an accomplished but little-known young poet. I know. I was there at the beginning.

I first became aware of Claudia’s work when I was a graduate assistant at Southern Review some twenty years ago. When I got my degree and took a job at LSU Press, I was lucky enough to edit Claudia’s first book, Pharaoh, Pharaoh, which Dave Smith had accepted for his Southern Messenger Poets series. I loved it, and when Dave also took her second book—Pinion: An Elegy—for the series, I asked to edit that one too, and it was an even greater pleasure. I also got to help with the cool cover, which oddly enough was designed by Barbara Bourgoyne, who now designs and typesets CR. Barbara (who also worked—still does—at LSUP) and I visited the musty basement of LSU’s Museum of Natural History, which was filled with giant metal cabinets, the drawers of which held the stretched, preserved wings of hundreds of avian species. Barbara and I pulled out drawer after drawer, pondering the contents, and finally found the perfect wing for Pinion’s cover. We borrowed it, Barbara photographed it, manipulated the image for the jacket, and Claudia was thrilled with the result.

I was already at CR when Late Wife came out, and Claudia was generous enough to send poems to the mag. I forwarded the batch—a terrific selection from her lyric sequence All Girls School (later published in her collection Figure Studies)—to Don Bogen, who was delighted with them and took every one. The day after he sent his letter of acceptance, Claudia was awarded the Pulitzer. Another odd intersection between my life and Claudia’s: Shortly after Pharaoh, Pharaoh came out, she took a position at Mary Washington College—my alma mater—and teaches there still.

Needless to say, it is gratifying to have played a small role in the career of such an outstanding poet and person—and to see her early promise borne out in a big way. If you’re nearby, you too can cross paths with Claudia Emerson. She lectures this Friday afternoon, April 5, on UC’s campus (Elliston Poetry Room, 646 Langsam Library).

Word Up!

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

Nicola Mason: An obvious blog post presented itself to me this week, courtesy of two lovely Facebook friends. Friend One reported with delight that he had finally used the word “Cthulhu” in a poem. Friend Two linked to Grammarly’s “Tips for Writing Better.”

Friend One’s status I immediately liked. (I mean, how cool is “Cthulhu”?) On Friend Two’s, I commented: “I object to [Tip] number 6,” which reads, “Never use a big word when a diminutive alternative would suffice.”

Because: Why limit yourself to “diminutive alternatives” when there’s so much big, beautiful verbiage out there? Polysyllabic words, obscure words, and odd, striking usages of familiar words lend both heft and luster to the language. Not to mention flexibility. (Who doesn’t want options when it comes to conveying something that means . . . well, something. Nuance is all!) Perhaps most important, rare words can increase not just our knowledge (raise your hand if you’re about to google Cthulhu!) but our ways of thinking, of linking ideas. Moreover, they’re just plain sources of delight—at least for the CR staff.

I therefore offer you some words in our current issue that surprised, delighted, and confounded us. (Yes, we had to look up some of them—and it was fun.)

parterre               biliopancreatic

embouchure        oneiric

kachinas              ideogram

abortifacients      tisanes

scanted               polyhedrality

ductile                 glockenspiel

chummery           nanometer

palisades            lorries

bulbous               transmutation

debauched          hauliers

bladderwrack      gelatinous

klobbyosh            koan

fabaceous            sarangousty

glassine               flexion

denouement